Tough pastoral issue looming for NZ Bishops

NZ Herald

The End of Life Choice Act will create a tough pastoral issue for New Zealand’s Catholic bishops says Bishop Patrick Dunn (pictured).

The Act comes into force on 7 November.

The big pastoral issue revolves around whether or not to give the last rites to people who choose assisted suicide or euthanasia.

The last rites include three sacraments: Confession, Anointing of the Sick and Dying and Holy Eucharist. These sacraments are given to Catholics seriously ill or in danger of dying.

Dunn says the bishops have discussed this issue at their last bishops’ Conference meeting. At this, they agreed “to seek wider input” on the issue.

“We have got to be careful,” Dunn says.

“The bishops are concerned about offering these [rites] to people being euthanised, but are seeking feedback.”

This will include looking at what’s appropriate in terms of giving guidance and advice to those who are thinking of availing themselves of assisted suicide or euthanasia.

There are dilemmas such as whether priests should “sit by the bed while the doctor’s doing the injection saying the prayer for the dying.”

” It’s a bit odd, isn’t it?” Dunn says.

So far the bishops have agreed it might be acceptable to hear the confession of those who choose assisted dying.

In doing so, they would ne, “hoping all the time this might help them to not go ahead with what they’re doing,” Dunn says.

But any decision the bishops make will be structured so it cannot undermine the position of Catholic medical practitioners, who refuse to take part in assisted suicide or euthanasia because of conscientious objection.

Dunn says the bishops were disappointed with the passage of the Abortion Legislation Act and the End of Life Choice Act. They did all they could to prevent these from becoming law, Dunn says.

“It’s like a tide. This (euthanasia) is one of the terrible signs of the times. How do we respond as a Church?”

“In some ways, all we can do is keep emphasising what we believe and then try to show the compassionate face of the Father.”

“All we can do is to keep affirming the worth and the preciousness of every human life, even though we are living in a situation which we find so abhorrent,” Dunn says.

Dunn says it seems the ordinary person thinks assisted suicide is a compassionate act, a merciful thing.

“The trouble is — this sort of act can have a creeping effect. The big fear is that old people or chronically unwell people could begin to feel‘well, I’m a burden on my family, a burden on society. I’m no good. My life has no value. I just want to end it’.

“It actually has consequences that are negative for society. I sort of hope in a way that it won’t be taken up much, but you never know.”


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